Camera, Photos, and Videos
Yes, of course the quality suffers when you use digital zoom, but it’s still nice to have as an option on iOS 4. Too bad Apple buries this option a bit. You first have to press on the screen to launch the sliding zoom control, but at least it’s pretty fluid. As expected, when we took a picture of a chair from across an office, the image became pixilated and somewhat noisy. Also note that you can’t zoom in camcorder mode.
What you can do during video recording now is tap to focus, which seemed to work well (although the iPhone 3GS does a good job autofocusing). Tapping to focus also forces you to touch the screen, which can inadvertently produce shaky footage.
Other new features inlcude the abililty to sync Faces from iPhoto and to see geo-tagged photos appear on a map in Photos. We especially like the new option to choose which size photo you’d like to send when e-mail, including full-size (great for when you’re connected via Wi-Fi.)
Spotlight Gets Web Savvy
Taking a page from the webOS playbook, Spotlight searches or no longer limited to what’s on your device. You can continue that query on the Web or via Wikipedia. So, for example, as we typed “New York Yankees” iOS 4 started to return results for things like The New York Times app and various e-mails, then displayed just the Web and Wikipedia as options. By default, Web searches use Google, but you can switch to Bing or Yahoo in the Safari settings menu.
Verdict: Palm should be flattered, or pissed (we’re not sure).
Tethering is (Finally) Here
Not only is this feature late to the party compared to other phones, it’s kind of clunky. And that’s because you have to either use a USB cable (another thing you have to schlep) or a Bluetooth connection (which can be slower than AT&T’s network). Other smart phones like the Evo 4G now offer mobile hotspot functionality, which is faster than Bluetooth and allows you to connect multiple devices to your phone at once via Wi-Fi. Should you decide to spend the $20 tethering fee, note that it will count against your data cap, which is 5GB for existing iPhone customers and 2GB for new ones. You can only use tethering with the $25 DataPro plan, not the $15 DataPlus plan.
Verdict: It’s nice that tethering is finally an option, but we prefer mobile hotspot apps to USB and Bluetooth.
Wallpaper, iBook, and Other Improvements
iOS 4 includes lots of other features that users will appreciate, including the ability to add wallpapers to your home screen. Unfortunately, this bell and whistle only supports iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and the third-gen iPod touch (just like multitasking). So you can pick anything from your camera roll. Just keep in mind that using any photo with bright colors could make it more difficult to see the icons on your home screen.
Avid readers will like the ability to download books from the iBookstore using the free iBook app, which integrates with your iTunes account. You can also store and sync bookmarks and notes for syncing across an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You can also now open PDFs using the iBook app and store them on your virtual shelf, a nice touch.
One feature that’s not yet ready for primetime is Game Center, which is a social gaming network a la Xbox Live. In addition to inviting friends to play games, Apple promises that users will be able to start a multiplayer game through matchmaking, track achievements, and compare high scores on leader boards.
There is plenty of other stuff in iOS 4, but other notable features include the ability to create and edit playlists in iTunes, suggestions and recent searches appearing during web searches, enhanced location privacy, auto spellcheck, and Exchange Server 2010 capability.
There’s no question that iOS 4 delivers a lot of the features people have been asking for. Apple’s approach to multitasking involves a bit of a learning curve, but it’s relatively easy to switch apps, and we’re excited to see what developers do with the new tools at their disposal. Also, e-mail now feels more streamlined, and iOS 4′s approach to folders is more elegant than the competition.
Still, there is plenty of room for improvement here, including making it easy to see all running apps at one time and closing apps with fewer steps. We’d also like to see Apple (or a third party) roll out a hotspot app, offer tighter integration with social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and offer a more subtle notification system.
Overall, iOS 4 could be further refined, but it’s fast, polished, and generally makes life easier for iPhone owners.